George Washington Carver (1864-1943)

A resourceful and determined agricultural chemist, George Washington Carver overcame social barriers to become a respected expert who applied his knowledge to assist poverty-stricken farmers in the southern states of the USA.

Born into slavery in Missouri, USA, Carver gained a vast amount of plant knowledge and practical experience working on farms throughout his childhood. Despite the racial discrimination encountered during his initial attempts to gain an education, Carver eventually studied piano and art and later qualified in botany. His postgraduate studies in plant pathology and mycology earned his reputation as a respected botanist and in 1896 he was invited to be Head of the Agricultural Department at the Tuskegee Institute.

Over the next 47 years Carver undertook numerous teaching and research projects and devised a number of techniques which enabled farmers to maximise their yields through crop rotation and planting nitrogen-rich plants such as soya beans to nourish soils after intense periods of cotton planting. By the 1920s, Carver was renowned for his expertise in deriving products such as cosmetics, paints, dyes and plastics from peanuts. Many farmers benefited from his ideas, which enabled them to improve their yields and generate additional income through their new cash crops of peanuts, soya beans, pecans and sweet potatoes.

Carver was widely recognised both by government and industry for his contribution to agriculture and his legacy is commemorated throughout the USA. He died in 1943 in Tuskegee, Alabama.